unc·​tu·​ous ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio)
: having, revealing, or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality
: fatty, oily
: smooth and greasy in texture or appearance
: plastic
fine unctuous clay
unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

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Is unctuous positive or negative?

Nowadays, unctuous usually has a negative connotation, but it originated as a term describing a positive act: that of healing. The word comes from the Latin verb unguere (“to anoint”), a root that also gave rise to the words unguent (“a soothing or healing salve”) and ointment. The oily nature of ointments may have led to the use of unctuous to describe things marked by an artificial gloss of sentimentality. An unctuous individual may mean well, but the person’s insincere effusiveness can leave an unwelcome residue—much like that of some ointments.

Examples of unctuous in a Sentence

an unctuous effort to appear religious to the voters an unctuous appraisal of the musical talent shown by the boss's daughter
Recent Examples on the Web While the internet will tell you to visit Ichiran for ramen, skip the chain and make a beeline for Hayashi to slurp up an unctuous broth made from a combination of fish and pork bones. Christina Liao, Vogue, 9 Jan. 2024 Poor Things is the obvious candidate this year, thanks to standout turns from Willem Dafoe as a lovably mad scientist and Ruffalo as an unctuous suitor. Vulture, 8 Dec. 2023 When the news breaks that Bezos had an extramarital affair with Lauren Sánchez—which is covered by the Post—Baron writes him an unctuous note offering his sympathies. Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, 21 Nov. 2023 This recipe reminds us a little of fudge though, with its creamy, unctuous texture and toothsome bite, yet its sweetness comes from powdered sugar. Southern Living Test Kitchen, Southern Living, 16 Nov. 2023 Also, get beef that’s not too lean, such as 80% lean versus 85% or 90%; the higher fat content will translate to a more unctuous ragú. Jessica Radloff, Glamour, 13 Sep. 2023 These are eaters who wax rhapsodic when reminiscing about the unctuous pleasure and salty pop of caviar washed down by an icy, astringent vodka. Laura Reiley, Washington Post, 2 Oct. 2023 Any unctuous sauce, say for a blanquette de veau or boeuf bourguignon, must be mopped off the plate with a chunk of baguette. Roger Cohen, New York Times, 29 Sep. 2023 At the games themselves, however, outward aggression has taken a backseat to unctuous charm as China sought to win the hearts of more than 40 Asian nations and regions by dazzling them with technology and slathering them with praise. David Rising, The Christian Science Monitor, 26 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'unctuous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French unctueus, from Medieval Latin unctuosus, from Latin unctus act of anointing, from unguere to anoint

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

Time Traveler
The first known use of unctuous was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near unctuous

Cite this Entry

“Unctuous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unctuous. Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


unc·​tu·​ous ˈəŋ(k)-chə(-wə)s How to pronounce unctuous (audio)
: smooth and greasy like an ointment : oily
: too smooth, polite, and agreeable in speech or manner
unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

Medical Definition


: rich in oil or fat : fatty
an unctuous pharmaceutical preparation

More from Merriam-Webster on unctuous

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